If you're got some extra time on your hands, growing weed is a great summer project. Even if you don’t like to get high, you’ll feel like a total badass when you see those iconic leaves sprouting in your backyard. Don’t be intimidated. You need next to nothing to get it right. Marijuana grows fast, making it super rewarding and a fantastic beginner crop. And yes, it grows entirely outdoors. In my new book, Growing Weed in the Garden, a No-Fuss, Seed-to-Stash Guide to Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation, I treat it as what it is—a plant that grows outside—easily, at that.
Now that it's legal in 33 states (and counting), here’s everything you need to know to get the job done.
Find Your Spot
Weed is a quick-growing summer annual, just like a tomato. If you’ve got an existing veggie bed, put it there. If not, you want full sun (at least six hours of direct sunlight a day). Containers work, too. The bigger, the better. Fifteen gallons is the goal, and drainage is a must.
Get the Goods
Dispensaries are the only legal spot to score seeds and clones. Don’t sweat your selection—the whole sativa/indica debate is bullshit—whatever you get your hands on will be a hybrid, and what it does to you is entirely subjective.
Grow Baby, Grow
Plant your weed with plenty of finished compost, and watch it grow—it’s called weed for a reason. Water anytime the soil is dry down to about ½ an inch. You’ll want to prune it gently, at least snipping the top when there are three to five sets of leaves. This will give you lots of buds, instead of one giant one that’s totally impressive, but a nightmare to dry and cure.
Forming in the armpits of the branches, small flowers start to appear sometime after the summer solstice. Don’t expect cheery, little daisies. These alien-like flowers won’t be like anything you’ve ever seen before. This is where the fun starts. Make sure all of your plants are females (a successful harvest is comprised of unpollinated female flowers) by getting a close look at the flowers. If you see tiny hairs—females. Round balls—males—and those should be chucked.
Buds are ready to pick in September or October. Flowers are ripe when half the stigmas (those hair-like strands sticking out from the buds) are amber and half are still white. You can also pinch the flowers, a method lovingly known as, “squeezing the nug.” If they’re spongy, let them wait. If they’re firm, it’s time. Snip branches to hang upside down.
Dry and Cure
For the smoothest smoke and best results, cannabis needs to dry evenly and slowly. Hang branches upside down in a cool, dark spot for about two weeks. A garage or closet will do. In 10 to 14 days, when the branches snap and buds sound like popcorn when pressed you’re ready to snip the buds and put them into airtight containers, like mason jars or steel lids with locking clasps. Seal them overnight and check on them the next day. If the flowers seem to have regained their moisture (as measured with a gentle squeeze), leave the lid off all day before resealing at night. Repeat this process until they’re as dry as they were the night before.
To quote The Pharcyde, “Joints, blunts, or a bong. Any which way I can’t go wrong.” But if, like me, those 1995 lyrics harken you back to high school, know that there are far more civilized ways to consume your weed. Vaporized, soaked in alcohol for a tincture, simmered in coconut oil for cooking, or just give it away.
Growing Weed in the Garden author Johanna Silver is the former garden editor of Sunset magazine.